Dealing with a Reactive Dog on Leash: What We Are Doing

The leash should always be loose

Nix’s personality is evolving, both in good and not so good ways. She is wonderful at home: she no longer destroys things when left alone (*fingers crossed* that this continues), she only barks occasionally and she is happy just keeping us company. However, her street behaviour has deteriorated. Ever since she was a puppy, whenever she met a dog on the street she’d pull the leash to try and approach the other dog, hair standing on end. I always assumed that the standing hair was due to a bit of insecurity on her side rather than a wish to intimidate the other dog.

However, she’s becoming more reactive. Most of the times that she’s met a dog while on leash lately, the situation has resulted in nasty barking and pulling on her side. Not only this, but she sometimes pulls even if there aren’t any dogs around. My theory is that this usually happens when she’s been cooped up inside for too long and she is either restless or needs to do her business.

The solution: Feisty Fido and My Dog Pulls, What Do I Do?

So I decided to reread I couple of books (or rather booklets) I got at the beginning of the year. My Dog Pulls, What Do I do?, by Turid Rugaas, and Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash-Reactive Dog, by Patricia B. McConnell and Karen B. London. The first focuses on the issue of pulling itself, whereas the second on the issue of pulling / barking /misbehaving caused by the presence of other dogs.

After reading the first few sections of both books, I decided we’d be better served with Feisty Fido. The main reason is that Nix mostly misbehaves when she sees dogs. Moreover, when she is unleashed she is pretty well-behaved with other dogs – her dog-sitter always says she is a very good dog and behaves really well with the other dogs. The book specifically targets dogs such as Nix – they are fine with other dogs around when they can roam freely, but when leashed they react.

Nix playing with another dog

Apart from this, there is another thing I preferred of the technique in Feisty Fido. The approaches in both books start by teaching the dog in a quiet environment, free of distractions. However, Rugaas suggests using a neutral sound to catch your dog’s attention, whereas McConnell and London opt for teaching the “Watch me” command. I’m more comfortable using a command than a neutral sound. I think that, once out on the street, it’s going to be easier to tell her to “watch me” than making a sound.

The problem with both techniques is that we cannot yet use them while out, as we have to teach her at home first. But we have a solution for this in the meantime: the no-pull harness.

Our Plans

So this is what I’ve done so far:

  • I’ve started teaching the “Watch me” command at home using the clicker and treats.
  • For walks, we’ve started using the no-pull harness in every walk. We actually got this a year ago following an ethologist’s recommendation, but we didn’t use it very much. However, we can no longer ignore the situation as we risk things getting worse if we don’t do anything. In addition, the harness is less likely to damage her neck or spine if she pulls.
Nix on one of the rare occasions on which she was wearing the Bub’s (no-pull) harness

We’ll see how things evolve. So far, the harness has really helped with the pulling when no other dogs are around.

Have you had any similar problems? How did you solve them? Have you read any of the books I mentioned?

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